User conferences are back – will your event be a blockbuster or a dud?
User conferences are back – and better than ever? Hmm, hold on to your tote bags folks.
Yes, software companies have had two years or more to rethink, “re-imagine” and refocus their annual confabs: the user conference. Does this mean that events will eventually turn out right? If your answer is yes, we have some NFTs you might like…
We are perhaps far from truly exceptional events. But we can start by avoiding the worst pitfalls.
With that in mind, Jon and Brian come up with this list of bad user conferencing items that should never be resurrected.
User Event Habits We All Need to Break – Our Top Ten
1. Unimaginative location selection – Suppose you are the event organizer for a user conference. Apparently you think there are only two places in the world to hold a user conference: Orlando and Las Vegas. Let’s buy an atlas from these event planners and congratulate those who choose places like San Antonio, San Diego, Boston, etc. It’s a great conference if it doesn’t require a mile-long trek through a smoky casino. (Movie it sounds like: Casino)
2. The Distraught CEO’s Opening Speech – We like CEOs who really know their products, product roadmap and customer challenges. But sometimes CEOs feel like they have to host their user conference when they have nothing to say or know very little about their company. So what are these CEOs doing? They waste the time of thousands of people telling us about their new company logo, incredible market dynamics, fabulous customer success programs, or magic pivots. If we are lucky we get some African safari photos. It’s like watching a slideshow of a parent’s vacation in the Poconos, but with less excitement. Bonus: Participants can use this time slot to check in for their return flight. The virtual events forced the blessed discipline of the 60-90 minute keynote, giving attendees their day back. Let’s keep this discipline, okay? (Movie it sounds like: Being There)
3. Mercurial Wi-Fi – It says something when a tech company can’t get a simple tech product like wi-fi. Show producers often provide Wi-Fi login credentials on your ID badge. Unfortunately, no one ever seems to test the limits of these connections and the wi-fi will fail before the first keynote even begins. Instead of solving the bandwidth issue, the producers are setting up two Wi-Fi systems: one for onstage users and a lower quality one for the rest of us. Note to vendors: If you plan to launch the Metaverse, you need conferencing Wi-Fi capable of supporting a virtual reality world for all participants. (Movie that looks like: Tron)
4. The Deafening Marching Band (or Hipster DJ) – A bad trend started years ago when vendors started having marching bands in closed ballrooms loudly trumpeting the start of the show. Making people’s ears bleed just to get us all excited for upcoming non-announcements is just plain bad form. Let’s drop this aural onslaught of sellers! If we’re going to need hearing aids, I’d like it to be due to front-row seats at a Rolling Stones concert rather than an easily forgettable user conference. Oh, and we’ve traveled thousands of miles to network, not struggling to talk during the hipster noise fest from local DJs in every hall. (Film like: Drumline, or Stayin’ Alive, the critically acclaimed sequel to Saturday Night Fever)
5. Disappearing Large Coffee Containers – For the love of caffeine, nothing hurts the morale of the event more than containers of coffee (or Dr. Pepper, adds Brian!) purposefully washed away after a short break. If there’s one thing to open the wallet to when it comes to event costs, isn’t it to keep your attendees awake? Get out the coffee containers! (Movie it looks like: Office Space)
6. The CEO’s goofy talk show format – That’s when the Jimmy Fallon wannabes have a fake TV on stage for their keynote and invite flattering guests, awestruck patrons and irrelevant celebrities onstage for some overly scripted saccharine’maintenance‘. There’s no news in there, just Dreck. You should definitely skip this session and use the time to visit the Exhibit Hall for some awesome loot. You never know when you’ll need a new promotional t-shirt to wash your car! (Movie it sounds like: Talk Radio)
7. The demotivating jock speaker – Suppliers who invite speakers without technical knowledge usually do so because they themselves lack real news. The jock speaker will of course urge us to give 110% all the time but rarely knows what big data, hyperscalers or finally the ROI of your software investment looks like. The time slot for the jock opening speech is most effectively used by attendees to check emails or spreadsheets. (Movie it sounds like: Revenge of the Nerds)
8. The over-moderated panel – Nothing compresses the room’s remaining oxygen like an overly scripted and overly moderated “panel,” as the “incredible” host says with every anecdote shared by panel members. Whether the panel is made up of customers, partners or experts, the script is the source of your content problem – and that of the attendees unfortunate enough to add it to their session schedule. (Movie it sounds like: Broadcast News)
9. Color-Coded Social Distancing Wristbands – Let’s keep it simple: if someone is wearing a mask, they probably don’t want a bear hug. Otherwise, if they made the trip, they weighed the security issues and made a decision. Color-coded wristbands are well-meaning hygienic theater, but not part of any serious event safety discussion. Yes, bracelets are better than “I feel a little gross today“Top hats, but that’s about it. (Movie it sounds like: Clueless)
10. The Infomercial’s Paid Keynote – If there’s one thing that needs to be removed from every user conference, it’s this one. Seriously what the vendor thinks people want to pay a small fortune to attend their user conference only to have to put up with a buzzy hour-long infomercial ‘partner company polycarbonate level’. Attendees will take their mobile revenge, using the time to check in for their flight home and possibly upgrade to the middle seat of row 27. (Movie it sounds like: Airplane!)
Tips for a better customer event – this one goes to 11!
So if we leave these bad event habits on the cutting room floor, what should we have instead?
Here are our top recommendations:
- In addition to the vendor’s short-term product roadmap, ask the vendor’s top visionary to detail the long-term vision of what the solutions should entail in a few years.
- Let’s see videos of the technology (and/or related technologies) used at real customers – as told by real customers, from the keynote!
- Here’s an attention-grabbing format that few people have the guts to do: give customers the floor for half an hour and let them moderate their own customer panel!
- How about a session on how one customer drastically increased their usage and another who economically reduced their usage?
- Or, a session where a client described how they merged or absorbed a large company into their own?
- How about a session on what a client needed to do to negotiate a realistic renewal? (Okay, we can dream!)
- How about an unfiltered customer feedback session on your new cloud release?
- How about an on-site hackathon that leads to a product showcase for curious customers?
- How about a keynote where a factory’s entire shop floor or supply chain is modeled on stage and enabling technologies (e.g., IoT enabled by IA) are highlighted at each step?
- Beyond the live broadcast of the keynotes, how about a series of interactive hybrid sessions for those who couldn’t be there? Creating a hybrid/virtual event track isn’t as difficult as you might think – and it shows some thought for geographically dispersed and immunocompromised people.
- How about asking a number of college juniors or seniors to evaluate the vendor’s UX and exhibitor solutions in the exhibit hall? Let future users tell us what excites them and what skills/solutions will help their resume?
If your company is a major “user” of a vendor’s software, send a letter to their CEO and tell them what you want in your user conference. Remember that it is meant to be about you (and not the provider, its event sponsors, distribution partners, preferred implementation partners, etc.). Users, it’s time to take back control of your user conference.
Saddle up friends, this could be a tough ride…